The contribution of autoimmunity in the genesis of chronic Chagas' heart pathology is not clear. In the present study, we show that: (a) BALB/c mice chronically infected with Trypanosoma cruzi reject syngeneic newborn hearts; (b) in vivo treatment with anti-CD4 but not anti-CD8 monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) abrogates rejection; (c) CD4+ T cells from chronically infected mice proliferate in vitro to syngeneic myocardium antigens and induce heart graft destruction when injected in situ; (d) anti-CD4 treatment of chronically infected mice establishes long-term tolerance to syngeneic heart grafts; and (e) the state of tolerance is related to in vitro and in vivo unresponsiveness of the CD4+ T cells. These findings allow us to suggest that autoimmunity is the major mechanism implicated in the rejection of syngeneic heart tissues grafted into the pinna of the ear of mice chronically infected with T. cruzi. The similarity of the lesions to those found in humans suggests that autoimmunity is involved in the pathogenesis of chagasic cardiomyopathy in humans. Moreover, this could imply therapeutic strategies by reestablishing long-term tissue-specific tolerance with anti-CD4 mAb treatment, mediating anergy, or deleting the responder CD4+ T cells to heart tissue antigens.

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